Libraries are always looking for ways to engage and connect with patrons. But understanding the shift from traditional public relations (PR) to today’s customer-centric digital marketing landscape has become a key to successful engagement. So said Heather Pemberton Levy, VP, content strategy and publishing for research/advisory firm Gartner, during her keynote presentation leading off “Successful Library Marketing: A Masterful Approach to Strategies, Best Practices, and Tools To Turn Your Library into a Powerhouse,” an online course hosted by LJ Professional Development in November 2016. Content marketing is about building personal connections via moments and stories and showing your audience “why to care” about your product, according to Levy, who is also author of Brand, Meet Story: How To Create Engaging Content To Win Business and Influence Your Audience (Routledge).

Levy explained that traditional PR is dependent on traditional media. A company, or an institution like a library, makes a story pitch to a magazine or newspaper, but, ultimately, the publication’s editors decide whether a story will run. Social media has changed this dynamic, enabling companies to engage with their customers directly. But maintaining engagement requires quality content.

“If you can build your own audience on social media, that’s great,” she said. “But in order to get your audience to consume your content and want to share it, it has to be of substance, it has to be meaningful, it has to [have] editorial quality.” Libraries need to define which demographic is their top marketing priority and what content would be most relevant to that audience, Levy said, and then can use a “story brief” worksheet and outline to create effective content. She also shared techniques for presenting content to customers and amplifying a brand message across channels, emphasizing the importance of including details in stories to make them memorable, and encouraging attendees not to be afraid of showing some personality on a library’s social media accounts. Having a unique voice provides “an opportunity to amplify your brand across channels. When you have a bifurcated and very disparate sense of media—there’s no longer one local paper that people read: there’s online papers, there’s social media, there’s a mom’s Facebook group—there are all kinds of places for you to reach your patrons. If you can come up with a distinctive voice and be bold enough to put a twist on your library, you can make a mark in the community and have your community think about your library in a refreshing way.”

Social and Studies

Social media is a crucial part of a modern marketing plan. During the course, Helen Todd, CEO of marketing agency Sociality Squared, covered key trends and platforms in social media, emphasizing the importance of mobile, images, sharing, user-generated content, video, and podcasts. She reiterated the significance of customer centricity and outlined in practical detail what she referred to as the “social trifecta” of strategy, content production, and daily channel management, adding advice, tips, and examples of website and social media best practices. “Keep in mind that there are a lot of different [social media] channels out there, and they all have different cultures,” she said. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a library will need to create entirely different content for its Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube accounts, but content does need to be creatively repurposed for each channel.

TARGETING CORE CUSTOMERS A recent IMLS-funded survey of the Las Vegas–Clark County Library District, NV (and nine other systems), dug into the library’s user base and each neighborhood’s key demo- and psychographics

Todd also recommended that libraries aim for “quality over quantity” when posting content to any channel but prescribed uploading at least one post per day for library Facebook accounts and spacing posts at least three hours apart during days with multiple posts to maximize the library’s placement in news feeds. With hashtag research, ­Instagram can be time intensive, she noted, so one to three posts per day. For Twitter, “the more the merrier.” And with blogs, frequency is often difficult to maintain, she acknowledged; libraries should aim primarily for consistency, even if that means just one post per week.

Danielle Patrick Milam, development director, Las ­Vegas–Clark County Library District and Foundation, NV, followed with “Targeting the Right User at the Right Time,” which focused on understanding communities through data. She posed the query: “Who do you library for?” The clear winners were demographic data, community conversations, and surveys.

She delved into the nuts and bolts of market segmentation and how everyone in “library land” can learn more about the community they serve. She shared a map (above) showing how her library in Las Vegas serves 21 different kinds of household market segments. Librarians should recognize that they serve a mix of local communities and local audiences, she explained.

Milam also discussed the results of “Core Customer Intelligence: Public Library Reach, Relevance, and Resilience,” a recent Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)–funded study that she coauthored with Marc Futter­man, CEO of CIVICTechnologies. The study measured public library impact among several demographics in the markets of ten participating library systems throughout the United States (for more on the study, see “Core Customer Study Analyzes Library Demographics“). Milam shared multifaceted market segmentation data and strategies, noting, for example, that print-based outreach such as flyers and mailers might be needed to reach potential patrons in demographic groups less likely to have Internet access at home.

Building engagement

Susan Halligan, founder of Halligan Consulting and former marketing director for the New York Public Library, picked up the social media baton and ran with it, observing that libraries are being constantly challenged by the pace of change in technology, as technology affects how people communicate and expect to be communicated with and that should influence the way libraries conduct outreach. She echoed previous presenters with advice to library marketers to expand video content efforts.

Halligan introduced four library case studies in the area of social media marketing to youth and young adults (Generation Z and Millennials). One New Jersey library had leveraged last summer’s Pokémon GO craze successfully to engage its young patrons. Others employed Facebook Live, video-sharing partnerships with local TV outlets, Snapchat, geofilters/­geotagging, and Twitter, as well as community-based initiatives and employee advocacy.

The presentation also explored the importance of ­metrics, analytics, and content discovery tools such as Feedly, Pocket, and Hootsuite, as well as browser extensions and blogs.

Cordelia Anderson, director of marketing and communications, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML), NC—the 2016 LJ Marketer of the Year award winner—focused on the difference between promotion and engagement and why the narrative must be flipped, taking the focus off the library and putting it on the customer. Examples included personal stories of customers featured on CML’s website, such as a video of a local mom helping her kid prepare for kinder­garten, and a section of the library’s website called “Your Stories” that includes a testimonial by a woman who recently moved to Charlotte and said that the library had helped her feel like part of the community.

Anderson went on to discuss the process of branding, describing the concept as a confluence of an institution’s story, promise, and beliefs. She also touched on social media, citing the value of building a loyal following that can be counted on to get a library’s message out to its community.

Case studies outlined establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with media outlets. For example, Anderson invited the founder of new media outlet the Charlotte Agenda to coffee, just to have a conversation and find out more about the types of stories he would be interested in covering. The founder, Ted Williams, a former reporter for the Charlotte Observer, was surprised to discover all of the services that CML had to offer. The outlet started covering the library, and the library got a sense of how to make personalized pitches to the Agenda, which has become particularly popular with Millennials and recent transplants to the city.

media reach

Colleen Theisen, outreach and engagement librarian, special collections and university archives at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and a 2015 LJ Mover & Shaker (M&S), addressed effective PR and media outreach with a case study on the evolution of her five-year outreach journey. The only constants, she joked, were change and impostor syndrome. She recounted how hiring freezes and job restructuring and the evolution of responsibilities all led to her current ­position.

Her presentation addressed problems in working with special collections, such as nonrecognition and the perception of irrelevance. After a shift to a coordinator position, she was tasked with growing the library’s social media profile. The key to achieving this, she said, was dividing work responsibilities by channel. Unfortunately, that resulted in burnout, turnover, and more upheaval.

The paradox of success, Theisen stated, is that library infrastructure is too often unprepared for the growth needed for outreach. For sustainability, she has shifted more effort to “inreach” (internal communications) and accepting that the pace of change may be slower than she’d like. As with other presenters, she stressed the significance of video to today’s library marketing.

LJ executive editor Meredith Schwartz followed up, focusing on how libraries can pitch the national and trade media as well as the local news outlets—and why they should: because exposure not only raises your profile and credibility with stakeholders but helps fellow libraries raise theirs. Sending out press releases, she warned, is a lot like sending out résumés: each must be customized to its target, so do your homework. The more you know about your audience, the better the chance the pitch will be successful.

Send releases in advance, and make ancillary materials—photos, audio, and video—readily available. For headlines, go with clear over cute if you can’t manage both. The same goes for the copy. Don’t bury the lead, and don’t get bogged down in jargon. In both instances, readers will turn off before they get to the message. In any case, prepare to have your words rewritten—or not; make your release precise and concise.

Good illustrations (photos, charts, etc.) were cited as a vital way to communicate to your audience why they should care about your offering. Provide ample but not overwhelming background, including your own—don’t make it difficult to contact you for further details. Don’t bombard contacts with irrelevant releases, or harass someone who chooses not to give you coverage. Take no for an answer, or you may lose the contact altogether.

Schwartz advised that thinking like a journalist will determine what is “news” to your target. If you’re pitching something that isn’t necessarily new, focus on what is different. However, libraries should feel free to pitch nonnews content (trend pieces, best practices, case studies, reports, etc.) by consulting the outlet’s editorial calendar. Get on the press’s radar by getting coverage elsewhere, appearing at conferences, entering award competitions, or putting extra effort into search engine optimization (SEO).

Connecting to the Community

Ben Bizzle, founder and CEO of marketing and web development firm Library Market and a 2013 LJ M&S, brought the course offerings full circle with “It’s ALL About the Story,” beginning with descriptions of a few of the creative marketing initiatives that he had helped bring to life as technology director for the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library, AR. These included a “Pull Up Your Genes”–themed genealogy “lock in,” with funny “Who’s Your Grandaddy?” and “Your Roots Are Showing” T-shirts as prizes. A humorous billboard campaign was designed to highlight library services with statements such as “Romance novels—cheaper than cats” and “Cheap date?… You get dinner, we’ve got the movie.” Marketing, he explained, should always emotionally connect to your community, be compelling, and catch people’s attention. Even materials without graphics can work if presented well, Bizzle said.

However, while “edgy” humor is usually fine, Bizzle warned, know where the “line” is in your community, and don’t cross it. He told a funny story about the “Cheap date?… You get dinner, we’ve got the movie” billboard, which was mistakenly placed near an adult video store.

Bizzle advised attendees to be looking constantly for inspiration, as the best ideas often come when “thinking outside the library box.” He closed with an emphasis on the importance of remembering your patrons and including their stories in yours.

Laurie Russo is a freelance reporter and editor based in Queens, NY

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